We’ve been fortunate to work on an ongoing advertising campaign for the Huntsman Corporation (HUN), a very large differentiated products company. Huntsman doesn’t make products that you or I can buy in the store, but their products are everywhere…the foam in auto seats, insulation in buildings, even the soles of athletic shoes.
The challenge for Huntsman then, is showing what they do, without “selling” a specific product. Their advertising is often BTB in trades within the industrial world, and the theme/concept for their ongoing campaign is collaboration between Huntsman and the partners who use Huntsman materials in their products.
To that end, I’ve done a few shoots for them, always collaborating with the incredible Chris Pearson, a British designer who really knows his stuff. I’ll break down a few of the recent shoots I’ve done for them below:
In advertising photography, unlike corporate or editorial photography, you often get a very specific comp or brief. In the old days, designers would draw the concept on paper, and after these were presented to the client, the advertising photographer was brought in to execute the idea. These days, the comps are often “theme boards”, or “mood books” – multi page PDF presentations with a mixture of drawings, existing stock (to show mood or lighting style), and sometimes, full-on Photoshop illustrations made up of 10 or more individual photo elements….a background from here, a person from there, etc…with color changed to suit the designer’s vision of the final piece. Sometimes there is room for collaboration and interpretation, and a good photographer always tries to give the designer what they want, but improve on the concept if at all possible.
For the first shoot, we needed to show a builder and a client looking at plans within an unfinished home highlighting a spray foam insulation product. We used Plume Wafer 100’s with Lighttools grids on each person, lighting each model’s face. We used a large softbox to fill the scene (very slightly) from above the camera, and a low shutter speed on a floor level tripod to open up the ambient light coming in from the window. I used the new Canon 24 Tilt shift on this shot. (If you would like to see more lighting scenarios from previous shoots, you can find them here.)
Grocery store shoot for Huntsman freezer insulation products.
For the grocery store shoot, which was to highlight the insulation products Huntsman makes for commercial freezers, , we had to rent a large grocery store location after hours (the middle of the night!), and balance our strobes to the existing banks of fluorescents overhead. It was a tough lighting situation, as the lights couldn’t show in the final picture. We ended up using two large rectangular softboxes high above the camera on either side of the camera, feathered up slightly above level, and two Canon 580 speedlights inside the glass freezer cases on each side to pop a little fill on each model’s face. A retoucher removed signage on the back wall in post.
Stadium shoot with two soccer players for Huntsman products in athletic shoes.
For the third shoot, we rented a large Texas high school football stadium to highlight Huntsman’s products used to create Adidas soccer shoes. Since the theme, was one of Huntsman working together with other companies, the decision was made to show a couple of soccer players doing pre-game drills….working together on the soccer field.
Finding soccer players that looked realistic was a tall order for casting, but eventually, we found models with soccer experience, and we shot a series of drills that players might do together on the field – running, stretching, warming up, kicking a ball back and forth, and heading the ball back to each other. Again, the emphasis was on teamwork – not competition, hence the identical uniforms.
This shoot was the most elaborate in terms of lighting. We brought in three assistants for the shoot, and used Profoto 7A’s with Bi-tube heads and Magnum reflectors from behind the subject on high-rollers, 2 more 7A’s with large Plume 140 strip banks with grids from a slightly closer to side angle (still slightly from behind though), and a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 feathered up slightly from high above camera. We shot throughout sunset, and did enough takes to make the models really, really sore the next day! A retoucher was able to duplicate the edge of the high school stands in the background and create a mirror image that made the stadium seem larger than it actually was.
In the end, the client was very happy, and we had a great time creating images for some hard to illustrate concepts.
High-tech engineering schematic of the set…..drawn with pinpoint laser accuracy.
Behind the scenes set shot from the soccer shoot, showing assistant Andrew Loehman with the 5 light setup.
I recently completed a cool corporate photography project for The Methodist Hospital System’s Leading Medicine publication. Methodist is the official health care provider for several of the sports teams in the Houston area, among them, the Houston Astros, The Houston Texans, The Houston Dynamo MLS team, Rice University, and The Houston Ballet.
The project was coordinated by the creative team at Methodist, working with the help of an outside agency, Adcetera, here in Houston.
Among the stories we photographed for the issue, were a story on Houston Texans running back Arian Foster’s vegan diet (I think he has since recanted…), and a story on NFL quarterbacks dealing with concussions, featuring then Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.
We had a lot of fun with Arian Foster and his vegan diet story.
The photo of Matt Schaub for the NFL quarterback concussion story. We used an LCD projector to project a brain image on the side of Schaub's head.
Another view of Schaub, using the projector to generate a background of brain synapses.
For the Schaub story, we ended up trying two photos in addition to his cover shot setup: in the first “concussion story” shot, we used an LCD projector to project an image of a brain on the side of Schaub’s head. To make the head stand out and keep the “brain area” in mostly shadow, we used a Profoto strobe with a small softbox (a Plume Wafer 75) on a backdrop in the background (to silhouette the head with a graduated falloff), and then another Profoto Acute 1200 from 90 degrees camera right with a 3 degree grid on a Profoto grid reflector. This gave us a nice tight light on the face, but with a quick falloff to black so that the brain image would show well on the side of the head. The second concussion shot was more simple, as we just projected an out of focus image of brain synapses in the background, with the same keylight on Schaub.
In addition to the inside stories we shot for the magazine, one of the ideas was to create a giant fold-out cover, reminiscent of the Vanity Fair “Hollywood issue” covers with a representative from each team/organization featured on the piece.
The tricky part was, these were eight (count em – 8!) separate photo shoots! Planning was crucial, and just to hedge our bets, we actually created two lighting schemes that we used on each and every shoot:
-A large, soft, one light setup with a big Plume Hexoval 180 camera right – very close to the subject.
-a three light setup, with two gridded rimlit softboxes and a Plume Hexoval 140 boomed into the middle.
(Both of these lighting scenarios are shown in diagram form on a previous post about a San Antonio Spurs SI cover shoot here.)
With the help of assistant Nathan Lindstrom, we created a template on seamless during the first shoot with exact locations and measurements for all the lights. The strobe settings, angle, and height of the lights were matched exactly on each shoot, along with focal length and camera position. We unfolded this giant diagram at every shoot to place everything in the proper locations.
The inside tri-fold cover with the 3 light setup. (L to R): Texans running back Arian Foster, Rice basketball player Jessica Goswitz, Houston Dynamo soccer player Brad Davis, Texans QB Matt Schaub, Houston Ballet's Lauren Anderson, Olympic gymnast Chris Brooks, HS soccer star Lindsey Biggart, and Houston Astros pitcher Bud Norris.
The outer tri-fold cover with a one light setup. Background is a heavily retouched image provided by the ad agency.
The project went on for almost three months, due to the crazy schedules of the athlete participants. Once the final work was completed, the Methodist team and the Adcetera team produced a marvelous, incredibly printed publication – and ended up using BOTH lighting setups – one as the outside cover foldout, and one on the inside. The final retouching and composites were put together by the agency.
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Among the really fun moments… having longtime Houston Ballet prima ballerina Lauren Anderson teach me the proper way to stretch on a ballet bar rail. (There are photos, but hopefully, I will take them to my grave… you really DON’T want to see what that looked like!).
Crew photo at the end of the Houston Ballet/Lauren Anderson shoot: From left – Nathan Lindstrom, makeup artist Wendy Martin, Arick Chikiamco, Lauren Anderson, me, Sheshe Giddens, Melanie Fritzsche, and Hugo Perez.
Lauren's idea: It's not every day you get to hold a world class Prima Ballerina on your shoulders.
The final cover treatment, designed by SI Creative director Chris Hercik.
With the NBA Conference playoffs nearing completion and the Spurs already a lock for the Finals, I got a call from Brad Smith, the Director of Photography at Sports Illustrated, asking if I could quickly get to San Antonio. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker rarely if ever pose together, but had reluctantly agreed to pose for an SI cover which would come out a couple of days later, to coordinate with the beginning of the finals.
Andrew Loehman, a great digital tech/assistant from Austin agreed to sacrifice his Sunday and help us out, and gathered additional gear from Taylor Jones of Texas Grip in Austin. Loaded for bear, Andrew and his wife Chrissy met me in Austin early on a Sunday morning before Spurs practice to scout potential locations.
We knew we would have a mere 5 minutes with the Spurs “Big Three” so we wanted a location from which we could coax multiple looks. Unfortunately, the Spurs Sunday practice was slated for their practice facility, not the arena where they normally play. At the arena, setting up multiple backdrops and lights would be no problem, as there is ample space off the court, under the stands, in high bay loading docks, etc.
The practice facility, though very nice for basketball operations, had no such wide open spaces, and network crews had already commandeered the limited available real estate to shoot their NBA Finals introductions and promo spots for the upcoming TV broadcasts.
The original plan - note: we changed the V-flats out and just used the strips.
It had rained heavily that morning, so outside was not ideal either, although we had a cool corrugated metal wall picked out that would have worked well. Then we saw it…next door to the facility, across a parking lot, was the world’s greatest parking garage! It was the world’s greatest because it was empty and had a 12-14 foot high ceiling – which I’ve never seen before. It would make a great studio. With the help of Spurs PR man Tom James and Facility supervisor Julio Rodriguez, we were able to set up in the garage and prep for the shoot. Power was at a premium, but Julio saved the day (and our bacon) by finding additional avenues and helping us run long cables across the parking lot. We were all set.
Our lovely parking garage studio.....
Brad had mentioned how much they wanted a white background for the shot, so we elected to set up a big Matthews 12 x 12 as our backdrop. We did this instead of just seamless, because it was much more stable in case a gust of wind came through the open garage. We used the seamless for a white floor, and rolled it back to where the silk began. It would require a minor retouch if we shot full length, but it was the safest solution.
Giving the art director options is always a good thing, so we set up our lights so that they could serve dual purposes. Normally, we would set up large foamcore V-flats and stands with regular reflectors bounced into them to light the white background. We decided instead to use two Plume Wafer 140 Medium strip banks to light the white silk from each side. If I turned them off, we would get the same shot with a medium gray background. Then, if they were turned back toward the subjects with Lighttools grids inside, we would get a rimlit version with a black background. Andrew, with the generous help of his lovely wife Chrissy, would drop in a black 8 x 8 Westcott Scrim Jim to make sure the background went black.
So essentially, without moving our subjects, we got six different setups:
1. Boomed key, rimlit, gray background
2. Boomed key, rimlit, black background
3. Boomed key, rimlights off, white background
(reposition players in a row)
4. side key, white background
5. side key, gray background
6. side key, black background
We used two different key lights: A Plume Wafer Hexoval 140 on a boom for most of the shoot, and then a Wafer Hexoval 180 on camera right for the final photo. All of the lights were Profoto: 7A 2400’s for all but one light, which we had to substitute a 7B for when we ran out of power.
Chrissy filling in while we were testing our backlights.
We practiced several times and made careful calculations to determine the number of apple boxes each player would have to stand on to be in the appropriate position. We then choreographed the shoot, making several dry runs in sequence so we would be smooth when the players arrived. We would start with the rimlit gray, then add the black 8 x 8 solid for the rimlit black, then flip the strips around 90 degrees and remove the grids for the all white background, and finishing with the sidelit big Hexoval shot…..all in five minutes!
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The players arrived after practice and we actually got a rare smile out of Duncan, who is normally quite reserved. His kids came with him, and after sharing photos with them on the camera lcd screen, they climbed on my back and were making bunny ears behind my head to get their dad to crack a smile. It was a blast, although tough to keep horizons level when you’re being climbed like a tree.
I rushed back to Houston to file, (you know you're in a serious rush when you pass both Bucee's AND Luling City Market BBQ without stopping!) SI Creative Director Chris Hercik whipped up an awesome cover within a few minutes of receiving the photos, using a cool spot-color silver treatment which went great with the black and silver unis.
The black background shot with rim lights.
The white background setup with a smiling Duncan.
Manu goofing off.......
The last shot with a Wafer Hex 180. We shot this with white, gray, and black backgrounds.
UH cornerback DJ Hayden, the 12th pick in the NFL draft.
I recently photographed DJ Hayden, a cornerback from the University of Houston, who surprised many by being selected number 12 by the Oakland Raiders in the first round of Thursday night's 2013 NFL Draft. Hayden survived a freak injury: a November 2012 collision with a teammate in practice that ruptured his inferior vena cava, which is fatal 95% of the time, and normally only seen in serious car injuries. Medical personnel rushed him to the hospital and saved his life, but his stock in the draft dropped with the uncertainty about his condition, with many pundits not even picking him in the first round.
I photographed DJ for a story leading up to the draft in Sports Illustrated, and of course we wanted to make a telling picture that spoke to the seriousness of his injury. Normally, we might have scrubbed the shoot due to the rain and dreary weather, but we decided to press on, as the moody sky sort of went with the tone of the story. DJ posed shirtless, baring a scar that went completely down the center of his abdomen. ( His last words to doctors before they split him open to repair his torn vein were, “Ok, just don't mess up my abs…”)
We used two Profoto 7B's on the UH practice field late in the day. We decided to use a Plume Wafer 75 with a Lighttools grid from the right side, to just barely light the edge of DJ's face, with a little bit of spill highlighting the scar on his wrist from the many needles and transfusions he endured during his hospital stay. We used a regular 7″ reflector with a 3-degree grid with a Cinefoil snoot to highlight the scar on the chest and abdomen. Andres Quintero, my assistant on the shoot, operated the 3-degree grid by hand to make sure it stayed in the optimum position as we shot.
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With the under-exposed gray stormy sky, the result was a dramatic portrait that told the story of what DJ Hayden had been through en route to the 2013 draft.
Inspirational bracelets made for DJ during his hospital ordeal.
UH cornerback DJ Hayden, who survived a ruptured vein to be the 12th pick in the NFL draft.
The final cover shot with blue background added in post by SI imaging.
I recently photographed 2012 Cy Young Award-winning pitcher David Price of the Tampa Rays for the cover of Sports Illustrated's baseball preview issue. Each year, SI publishes several regional covers for the baseball preview, along with a centerpiece story, and of course all the usual team specific preview spreads. I was fortunate enough to do the Price cover and the opening centerpiece spread story on the Rays pitching staff. Legendary Sports Illustrated Staffer Walter Iooss and longtime staffer Robert Beck shot the other regional covers , so I was in good company!
This was a team effort with different photographers shooting covers in different cities, yet the magazine wanted them to look the same. I was sent a rough comp with a pitcher following through in his delivery, on black, with the broken glass added to the foreground in post. This is not an uncommon assignment, especially in the advertising world, so being able to interpret a comp and match what other photographers have done previously is a useful skill.
The first critical task was finding a place to shoot. Since we were trying to keep these consistent, we needed a large room where we could essentially set up a studio. Spring Training in Florida is often super bright, super windy, and there aren't many private spaces away from fans and other teammates to do this sort of thing. We essentially needed to build a black box of black fabric 12 x 12‘s to control light in the shoot area, and we were lucky to find a spot in the minor league clubhouse that worked well. Setting up an overhead, a background, and two side 12 x 12's in the wind and weather was something I was trying to avoid at all costs. You would need a crew of 3-4, and a million sandbags to do that, and we were on a limited budget.
We photographed all five starters in various stages of delivery.
Since we were dealing with white uniforms, and the background was black, I decided to rimlight the pitchers from behind, using two large chimera strip banks oriented vertically on each side and fill from the front. Since we had left handers and right handers, I decided to use two small lightbanks on boomed C-stands positioned close to the ground in front of the pitchers (Chimera mediums I think…I normally use Plume stuff, but these were rentals). We had each light on it's own Profoto 8A pack so we could shoot everyone fast. We didn't know when we were setting up if we would get all five pitchers in rapid succession or spread out throughout the day, but we wanted to be ready so that we could maximize our time with them.
We varied the ratio slightly on the front lights depending on whether the pitcher was right or left handed (we just flopped settings on the packs accordingly). By doing this, we were trying to keep them from looking too flat. We also used cinefoil on the bottom third of the front lights to prevent the legs from getting too hot in the photo.
Since we were inside, and not on a mound, we drug the lights outside the night before the shoot and lit a practice mound in the same fashion so we would have foreground plates for the retouchers at SI to use.
We photographed all five pitchers throughout the day, in various stages of their delivery, but when it was David Price's turn, we asked if he minded shooting a few photos outside. He was relaxed and said sure, so we promptly moved him out to a practice mound outside of the building we were in. We worked quickly and shot him with an Elinchrom Octabank at full power (2400 w/s) to overpower the high 1 PM daylight. Not an ideal situation, but you take David Price whenever you can get him.
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The next day, we finished the story on Tampa's pitching factory, shooting a setup with the Tampa manager and pitching coach, and a young prospect, Taylor Guerrieri, mentioned in the story. When we were done with Taylor, we asked him to hang around and pitch in the foreground for us, which made a nice framework for the coach photo…and of course we shot “normal” stuff of both coaches as well.
My favorite Florida assistant, Cy Cyr, was nice enough to join me on this adventure, and helped us out tremendously by renting gear for us from Rummel Wagner at Central Florida Strobe in Orlando.
In the end, SI imaging changed everyone's backgrounds to blue, and they used a different mound, which was lit a little differently. All the photos were opened up in the shadows so that they were a closer match. The coolest part about SI's final presentation? If you looked at the magazine on an ipad, you hear breaking glass as the cover appears. Cool.
The same frame as the cover – shown as it was originally shot on black.
This is the outside photo of Price – making the most out of crummy high noon light.
One of our shots of young pitcher Taylor Guerrieri.
Tampa manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey.
The March cover of Air & Space, with Col Bud Day on the cover.
I've had a keen interest in military aviation since childhood…when other kids were reading Curious George and other children's books, I was reading military biographies and books about World War II and Vietnam. I remember one summer day, when I was in about 3rd or 4th grade, while returning books to our local public library, one of the elderly librarians tried to usher me from the “grown up books” to the “kid's section” on the other side of the building. One of the other librarians quickly corrected her, “He's ok, Mabel….he just returned a book titled Guerilla Warfare and Terrorism. ” After that, Mabel left me alone. (I actually can't remember what her name was…… Mabel just seems like the perfect name for an old lady librarian).
I thought being a fighter pilot would be cool, I even requested info on the Air Force Academy at one point during junior high or early high school. 20/400 vision, however, and projectile vomiting during a simple Cessna 172 plane ride with a friend conspired to keep me out of the ejection seat.
After photographing the Doolittle Raiders a few years ago, one of my friends from the assignment, Matt Jolley, of Warbird Radio recommended me to some of the nice folks at Wings over Houston, the annual airshow here in the Houston area. I had mentioned to him an idea about a personal project, trying to photograph environmental portraits of notable pilots. The people with the autograph tent at WoH were nice enough to let me set up in their area and shoot simple, white background portraits of the pilots who were there signing autographs. I was able to photograph Col. Bud Anderson (a triple ace in the P-51 during WWII), Col. Dick Cole (Doolitle's co-pilot on the WWII Doolittle Raid on Tokyo), Gen. Boots Blesse (a famous Sabre jet ace from the Korean war) and several others during my weekend there. I was also lucky enough to meet and photograph former POW and Medal of Honor recipient Col. Bud Day.
The photos were interesting facial studies, but I lamented the limitations of the white background. I would have loved to have captured each of them with their respective airplanes, but during mid-day sun at a packed airshow, it was just not in the cards.
The first shot we took, before sunrise on the field at Ellington.
Several months later, John Simmons, one of my buddies from the WoH event sent me an incredible video of Bud Day, eagerly climbing into the cockpit of an F-100 Super Sabre just like the one he had flown in Vietnam and going up for a flight! The video was from the Collings Foundation, a non-profit foundation that owns and maintains not just World War II era prop planes, but also several Vietnam era jets, at….get this…..Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. The F-100, painted just like Bud's Misty 1 Vietnam bird is one of two in the world in flying condition.
John went to work, getting us permission from Rick Harris of the Collings Foundation to use the airplane. We made arrangements to photograph Bud, who lives in Florida, during a visit to see his son George, a former F-16 pilot, who now works as a SWA captain in Houston.
A few months later, there we were before sunrise on a warm summer morning in Houston, pulling the F-100 out of the hangar and towing it to the proper spot on the taxiway. We had scouted a few days before, using the iphone app LightTrac to position the plane.
Bud showed up in his flight suit, with his boots and Nomex gloves on – he was definitely ready to fly the plane if necessary! His son George also wore his flight suit. Part of my plan was to do a nice group shot of the father and son fighter pilots together.
We started shooting before dawn – long exposures on a tripod with battery powered strobes. Nathan Lindstrom assisted on the shoot and did a great job. We used a Profoto 7B with a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 on the side, and a Wafer 100 on another 7B boomed in front of the face as a fill.
The second shot, with a Wafer Hexoval 180 and a Wafer 100 as the sun rises in the background.
We next moved onto the backlit side of the plane, and photographed the Col.'s Day together and also the elder Col. Day alone, again using the same lighting setup. Fortunately, the sun came out for a few minutes before going back under a layer of clouds. The sunrise was beautiful!
Col. Day with Col. Day…two generations of fighter pilots.
We next moved to a shot with a long lens looking at the signature angle of the F-100 – straight up the open nose air intake. We carefully framed Col. Day in the foreground and backlit him from each side with a Profoto 7B and a Wafer 100 on each side. We then boomed in a Chimera small strip bank powered by an Acute 600. Although 87 years old, and with his body ravaged by years of torture and POW abuse, in this pose, with this light, in front of the F-100, Bud Day looked like he could still kick some serious ass.
The shot that made the cover, Col. Day still formidable at 87.
We finished with a 3/4 side lit portrait, with his glasses off, which showed off the MISTY patch on his flight suit.
The 3/4 lit portrait with “The Hun” front view in the background.
We did some group shots with the Collings Foundation folks who had so generously donated their time and effort to showcase the plane, and some USAF U-2 pilots, who had gathered during the shoot. All USAF pilots go through survival training at the AF Survival School at Fairchild AFB, named in Col. Day's honor. It was like watching a bunch of NBA rookies meeting Michael Jordan for the first time.
After packing up, the whole crew adjourned to a nearby Ihop for a truly memorable breakfast. I could literally sit and listen to George and his dad tell flying stories for hours. It was a fantastic experience.
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After the shoot, I sent a few of the photos to my editor at Air & Space magazine, just on the off chance that they might be working on a story related to Col. Day, MISTY, or the F-100. Several months later, as it turns out, there was a story on the MISTY program in the works. They eventually decided to use one of the photographs of Col. Day on the cover of the issue, with another one running inside.
I didn't want to jinx anything, so I didn't mention it to Bud or George until the cover was posted online. I've worked for many magazines, and covers often get pulled or changed at the 11th hour.
It was really an honor and a highlight to finally be able to make the call to Col. Day and let him know that not only was there a story on MISTY in the current issue of Air & Space, but that he had made the cover! This was truly one of the coolest things I've been able to work on, and I'm grateful to A&S, the Day family, Rick Harris and John Simmons for making this happen.
Col. Day and Col. Day reviewing some of the photos with the me.
A little background on Col. George “Bud” Day: He joined the Marines and fought in World War II just after high school. He came back to the US and earned a law degree, then continued in the Air Force flying fighter jets in Korea and eventually Vietnam. He miraculously survived a no-chute ejection the 1950's. At an age and mission count when other pilots were retiring, he volunteered for another tour and came up with the MISTY Fast Forward Air Control (Fast FAC) program, of which he was the commander. MISTY pilots flew low and fast over North Vietnam, marking targets including SAM missile sites for other aircraft to attack. It was so dangerous that it was an all volunteer squadron.
During one of these MISTY missions in 1967, Col. Day was shot down and captured. Badly hurt and barefoot, he escaped after a few days and evaded the enemy for 12-15 days, subsisting on frogs and berries, traversing miles of enemy territory and crossing the river into South Vietnam. He was within a mile or two of an American base when he was shot twice and recaptured. He spent the next 5 years 7 months in the “Hanoi Hilton” being tortured along with other notable POW pilots like Sen. John McCain and Admiral James Stockdale. For his valor, he was awarded the Air Force Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Today he is the most decorated living service member. After returning from Vietnam, he received 13 medical waivers and continued flying. He eventually amassed over 8000 hours – nearly 5000 of those in fighter aircraft. As if that weren't enough, he retired and went to work as an attorney, eventually suing the US Government on behalf of veterans who were not getting promised medical benefits and won. As a result, millions of veterans (my late mother-in-law among them), have benefitted from the program, called Tri-Care for Life.
Here's a cool behind the scenes video my friend John Simmons put together of the shoot:
I recently photographed a series of advertisements for ExxonMobil Chemical at one of their technology centers. We worked with a fantastic team from McCann Erickson in New York, and they did a great job of conceptualizing the final ads. The comp we were presented with showed a black and white image of an ExxonMobil scientist working in a lab environment with a detail breakout photo of a macro subject from their lab.
The labs were very tight and cluttered spaces – lots of scientific equipment everywhere, lots of hoses and pipes, and very few clean simple backgrounds. We decided to shoot several different lab techs and scientists working with their respective equipment on white. This was a serious challenge, as there was not ample room to do a normally lit white background. We settled on placing a 6 x 6 scrim jim behind the subjects, just to de-clutter the room, and give the retoucher clean images of the subject and foreground equipment to work with. This worked well, but it was a very tight squeeze all day. To look good in B&W, the light needed to be fairly dramatic and contrast-y. We used gridded softboxes, a Wafer 100 and a Wafer 75 in some cases, both with Lighttools 30 degree grids.
We also had great fun creating the macro images. Kelly Clark, our art director, would work with us to pick out various interesting pieces of scientific equipment, and we would then set up lighting and photograph details, often with the Canon 100mm macro, which is just an incredibly sharp piece of glass. It was interesting to create tight abstract views of everyday science equipment.
One of the cool shots we did, came about during the scouting trip. We noticed that several of the scientists would write in wax pencil on the plexiglas cover of their lab enclosures….math formulas, notes, etc. We decided it looked pretty interesting, and ran out to Home Depot to get a clean new piece of plexi to recreate the same look on white in the lab. (Apologies to Neil Leifer and his iconic Bear Bryant portrait. )
Andrew Loehman did a great job digital teching for the day, and Nathan Lindstrom assisted. Juan Guadiana, a stellar Houston-based retoucher did a masterful job of cutting out our subjects with their equipment for the final ads. These were not easy to do. Andrea Kaye, the art buyer at McCann Erickson, Valerie Sena, the account manager, and Kelly Clark, the art director were wonderful to work with, and we were able to enjoy a fantastic Tex-Mex meal with our ExxonMobil client at El Real, a cool new restaurant in the former Tower Theater during their brief visit to Houston.
The shot that ran in the magazine: “Johnny Football” centered on the 50 yard line at Kyle Field.
Last week, in preparation for the upcoming Heisman Trophy announcement, Sports Illustrated sent four photographers out to shoot portraits of the four leading Heisman candidates. My sports portrait photographer colleagues all made great images, and SI published a multi-page story on the Heisman frontrunners just three days before the announcement. Peter Read Miller photographed USC WR Marqise Lee, Darren Carroll photographed Kansas State QB Collin Klein, and Todd Rosenberg photographed Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o, while I got the call to shoot Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, known more commonly here in Texas by his nickname: “Johnny Football.”
Manziel, a redshirt freshman sensation, was sequestered from the press by his coaches until the week before the big announcement. When he finally spoke, the country heard from a charming, positive young kid who was enthusiastic and enjoying every minute of his journey. I've shot a ton of athletes, and normally we do a few “tough guy” or heroic poses, and we tried a few with Johnny, but he literally couldn't stop laughing and smiling. The best shots were the ones where he was grinning from ear to ear. That's truly him – just a bubbly kid who's happy to be here – overflowing with excitement that he gets to wake up each day and play QB for the Aggies…..and that was BEFORE he won!
For the shoot, due to newfound demands on his time and a TON of media interest, we had a shoot time of 2pm, which is not the most flattering light to photograph in. Actually, we were overjoyed to have any time with him at all, and Texas A&M SID Alan Cannon, who's a really great guy I've known for many years, made it all happen. We had a 30 minute slot (really only 25 minutes, because SI was also doing a quick video interview for the website in the last 5 minutes). We had to really plan all our shots in advance and have everything tested and set up ahead of time in order to maximize our time with him.
We really wanted a dramatic stadium tunnel look, with Johnny lit from above and the background blown out. I had done a similar shot of Jason White at Oklahoma years earlier, and the editor had mentioned using a tunnel if possible. We scouted the stadium for a couple of hours before the shoot, and didn't find any suitable tunnels. At A&M, many of the tunnels were narrow with chain link gates/fences in them, and it wasn't clean enough in my opinion to pull off the shot we had in mind.
I also knew that the photo was probably running as a square in the magazine so I shot most of the shots loose enough so that they could be cropped in that shape. There was also some discussion of converting all four players to sepia (which they decided not to do) so I tried to shoot with contrast in mind.
The sun was high and blistering, there was no shade to work with, so for the first shot, we planned to place the sun behind him and use it to our advantage. By placing the sun behind his head and underexposing the scene, we silhouetted the stadium (and Johnny). We added a Hexoval 180 from the left and made a dramatic portrait with a darkened Kyle Field behind him.
For the next setup, I wanted to emphasize the large “Home of the 12th Man” sign on the student side of the stadium. We were able to find a small tunnel entrance on the 50 yard line, where I shot from, and then we backlit Johnny from each side with Wafer 100's. Assistant Nathan Lindstrom then used a long boom to place a Hexoval 140 directly in front of Johnny's face, centered right over the camera, while Butch Ireland ( a longtime and very talented photographer colleague from College Station) manned an 8 x 8 Westcott ScrimJim to keep the harsh sun out of the scene. We also ditched the backlights and did a few dramatic shots with the Hexoval boomed to the right side.
We then walked Johnny over to a corner tunnel, which had a really interesting pattern in the poured concrete wall. It almost looked like a hand painted muslin fabric. We set up two other lighting setups there. The first one was a raw reflector head, which cast a shadow of Johnny on the wall. The idea was to replicate the look that stadium lights would have in the tunnel if you were about to take the field at night. The other setup was just a Wafer Hexoval 180, which we used to do some classic 3/4 shots of Johnny from the waist up and tight on his face. I wanted some simple shots with a big light source that would capture his ebullient personality.
When we stopped, I looked down at my watch – we had done 6 different setups in three locations around the field in 21 minutes! Johnny sat down for his interview – and then…oh Lord, the video shooter, Dan Blust, a talented videographer from Houston, interviewed me about the shoot. SI did this at each location and put together a nice behind the scenes video which you can see here.
Our model, rhythmic gymnast Olga Karmansky. (Photo by Robert Seale)
I returned recently from speaking and doing a lighting workshop at the Photoshelter Luminance conference, September 11-13 at the TriBeca Performing Arts Center in New York City. Luminance was far from a typical photo industry conference or convention. Photoshelter founder Allen Murabayashi and the great folks at Photoshelter put together a unique event, bringing in a wide variety of speakers from the technology world to compliment the usual suspects from the photo industry.
On the bill for the three day event were interesting and varied speakers like:
The most overqualified assistant ever? Photoshelter Chairman Allen Murabayashi helping us get our lighting setup together. (Photo by Robert Seale)
I felt super intimidated to speak and do my little demo in such good company, but I was very lucky to have some super overqualified assistant help, including Photoshelter folks Allen Murabayashi, Sarah Jacobs, and stellar music photographer Chris Owyoung helping out.
Our model, Olga Karmansky, a rhythmic gymnast, was wonderful and patient during two back to back lighting sessions. We had a short window of time, so we concentrated on doing multiple lighting looks from one setup in the studio. We were able to create several different looks without moving the model at all – very similar to the lighting talk and demo I gave at the Photoshelter event in Austin.
Allen and Photoshelter CEO Andrew Fingerman put together a hell of an event. It was wonderful to hang out with the other photographers and speakers, especially a speakers dinner on the first night, and a wonderful get together with my good friends: bay area baseball photographer Brad Mangin, and Boston commercial photographer and ASMP president Shawn Henry. It was also great to meet the young, super sharp and vibrant Photoshelter team, many of whom I had talked to over the phone over the years, but never met in person. These are creative, smart people that you wish you could work in an office with every day.
Hopefully Andrew and Allen will be able to make this an annual event!
Close up of Olga Karmansky during the lighting demo. (Photo by Robert Seale)
Olga, photographed with a 5 degree grid during the lighting demo. (Photo by Robert Seale)
Allen introducing the speakers. (Photo by Michael Treola)
Shaking hands with Joe McNally arriving at the studio. (Photo by Michael Treola)
McNally shooting in the studio downstairs. (Photo by Michael Treola)
Seale shooting during the lighting workshop. (Photo by Michael Treola)
Zack Arias speaking to his class. (Photo by Michael Treola)
Brian Smith speaking during his lighting workshop - note the model is ASMP president Shawn Henry. (Photo by Michael Treola)
As Jeremy Lin was in the process of inking his deal with the Houston Rockets last week, I got a call from Sports Illustrated. Often in sports, when a star player is traded to another team, there is a big fancy press conference to introduce the player to the media. Usually the player stands at a podium with the new owner, professes his love for the new city and holds up a freshly minted jersey with his name on the back. Interviews follow with all the local media outlets: radio stations, TV stations, teenage sports bloggers, and typically, the surviving newspaper in town.
What most people don't see, is the behind the scenes photo shoots. Put together in a rush, the sleepy player gets herded to multiple locations throughout the building to pose for the NBA, a magazine or two, the local paper, and a host of team sponsor PSA's. It's a challenging situation, very similar to “media day” shoots that we all engage in during preseason training camps. Each photographer or news outlet gets the player for a couple of minutes and they produce the best sports portrait they can.
After I hung up with the SI photo editor, I immediately called my good friend, Rockets photographer Bill Baptist, who I knew would be doing the same gig for the NBA. I found out that we were scheduled to be on one half of the practice court, since the other half was being used for the press conference setup. Billy had to do two large setups, so he generously offered to have our shoot moved to the empty arena floor. I quickly jumped at the chance and agreed that a larger room would be beneficial for all of us. This way, we wouldn't be crossing cords or competing for space. Plus, the last time Billy and I were that close together, I'm pretty sure he kicked my ass at tennis.
Stellar assistant Nathan Lindstrom and I showed up to the Toyota Center the next morning with a ton of gear, and made our way to the main arena floor. An empty arena makes a great photo studio, but unfortunately, it really was empty: as in, no floor! Since the arena hosts a different event almost every night, the wood basketball floor was in storage – along with the basketball goals, etc.
With the help of some friendly folks at the arena, we were able to get one of the basketball goals rolled out onto the empty concrete floor. I figured that, even if the floor didn't show, we could at least utilize the goal as a background element for context.
We put together lighting setups in two locations: A wide angle view with the goal in the background, backlit on both sides with Profoto 8A's and large Chimera gridded softboxes. We used a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 as the main light near the camera.
On the other setup, we put together a seamless paper backdrop with two different lighting setups: a three light setup with two Plume Wafer 100's with Lighttools grids, and a Profoto Beauty dish on a boom just above the camera. The other setup was another Wafer Hexoval 180 to the right of the camera. We used three Profoto Acute 600's for power on the seamless setup.
Lin showed up in a brand new red Rockets uni and made his way to our set. After shaking his hand and welcoming him to Texas, we quickly put him through both seamless lighting setups, and then standing and dribbling poses on the backlit concrete floor setup.
Part of Lin's appeal is his status as a young, springy, high-flying point guard. He looked great flying through the air, going to he hoop, and passing in mid air to his Knicks teammates during the a few months of “Linsanity” last season. At the end of the shoot, I asked Lin how his knee was feeling.
He said it felt great.
Great enough to jump on a concrete floor?
Sure, he said.
Ok then, let's do it.
I placed the camera, a Canon EOS1DS Mk III on the floor, and proceeded to shoot Lin leaping straight in the air with the basketball goal in the background. He looked great – our only minor tweak being that of changing his hand positions during the jump. At the end of the shoot, I handed him a towel, shook his hand and said thanks. I looked down at my watch and a mere 12 minutes had passed.
He left the arena soon after and was mobbed……not by New York paparazzi, but by mouth-watering Houston real estate agents, eager to spend at least some of his 25 million bucks.